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The Fire Behind the Ice — Did Wyatt Earp Ever Really Tame Josey?

by Heather Frey Blanton

The point of Patriots in Lace is to remind my American sisters (whether they be American by birth or spirit), of our fiery and rebellious ancestors and, hence, the bloodlines we should honor. The old adage, “Well behaved women rarely make history” is true. The history-making women of previous generations were passionate, obstinate,  tempestuous, and indomitable. Probably they didn’t see themselves as such at the time. They were just doing what came naturally.

So let’s talk about Josephine Sarah Marcus, or the woman known to Wyatt Earp fans as Josey, his common-law wife. Josey was a hellion, pure and simple. A pretty Jewish girl stifled by middle class boredom, she ran away from home at 18 to join a theatrical troupe. This troupe traveled the west and, by all accounts, this young lady was giddy with the power her freedom and beauty bought her. She drank, she danced, she flirted. In 1879 Wyatt Earp saw her perform in Dodge City. He saw her; Josey, however, failed to notice Wyatt.

God gave her a second chance.

Both of them would wind up in the warm and friendly boomtown of Tombstone a year later. Ironically, this was Josey’s second visit. She had returned to Tombstone due to the desperate pleas of Johnny Behan, the sheriff who couldn’t live without her and who had promised her parents he’d marry her. The two had a tumultuous relationship, at best, and it didn’t take long for Josey to figure out Behan was a two-timing jerk. One affair too many and her patience went up in smoke.

At Behan’s urging, Josey had used her money to build the couple’s abode which sat upon a lot he owned. When the two ended their relationship, Josey demanded Behan buy the house. He hemmed and hawed and tried to retain possession of the dwelling without paying. Clearly, he didn’t know who he was messing with. When he couldn’t/wouldn’t reimburse Josey, she simply had the house moved! Imagine the look on his face when he came home to an empty lot. Oh, hell hath no fury…

Hindsight is 20/20 and it is clear now that Josey only wound up in Tombstone for one reason. Wyatt Earp was her density—er, I mean, destiny. The electricity between the two was so noticeable it even earned a mention in the Tombstone Epitaph, much to Johnny’s chagrin.  A myriad of circumstances contributed to the hard feelings between Earp and Behan and it’s probable that Josey figured into the mix.

Either way, when events turned treacherous in Tombstone and Wyatt had to call down the thunder on his brother’s murderers, he sent Josey back to San Francisco. He promised, however, that he would fetch her as soon as possible. Nearly a year and a string of dead bodies later, Wyatt did show up on her doorstep. They were inseparable for the next 46 years.

No, it wasn’t always bread and roses. Josey spent a lot of time sitting alone in hotel rooms while Wyatt gambled for their stake. But she was by his side when they worked in saloons, sold horses, panned for gold in the wilds of Alaska, and rambled around the California desert in search of lost mines. She stayed with him when they left Alaska $80,000 richer and she didn’t abandon him later when they couldn’t pay their rent. She fought ferociously to protect his reputation from a questionable biography and was the sole friend who heard his last words upon this earth. Who would have ever guessed such devotion and tenacity would come from an 18-year-old runaway?

Me.

‘Cause she was an American girl…

Respect the lace.

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Polly Bemis–Was the Little Asian Flower Tougher than Most Men?

Life on the Western frontier for a woman was hard enough. Can you imagine being a minority? There were probably few things treated with less respect than a black woman or an Oriental woman.

Meet Lalu Nathoy, AKA, Polly Bemis.

Of all the research I have done on pioneer and patriot women, Polly impresses me the most. Originally from China, in 1872 her father sold her off as a concubine. Polly’s worth: two bags of seeds for her starving family. She was smuggled into San Francisco and taken by an “intermediary” to the wild-and-wooly mining town of Warren, Idaho where she would be served up as a concubine for an Asian saloon-owner. Polly was only 19 years old.

Legend says Charlie Bemis won Polly in a poker game and immediately set her free. Apparently, Polly didn’t really need her freedom. She worked for Bemis for many years and finally married him in 1894. While it has been suggested this was a marriage of convenience, I have my doubts. True, a new federal law could have made it necessary for Polly to be deported and yes, she was actually threatened with deportation at one point, which led to a hasty wedding with Charlie. But she could have just left Idaho. She could have bid farewell to Charlie. She could have moved some place where Orientals weren’t treated so harshly. She chose, instead, to stay and fight.

Polly passionately sought to become a real, legal American citizen. I suspect citizenship appealed to her independence and I really don’t think marrying Charlie was all that distasteful of an idea, either. Admittedly, though, the marriage helped move her towards becoming a citizen. She still had to petition the courts and after more than two years of rigorous, legal wrangling, Polly became an American in 1896.

Shortly after this, she and Charlie moved seventeen miles out of Warren, homesteading along the Salmon River and working a gold claim together. Their cabin was so remote, it couldn’t be reached by road, only boat. For a marriage of convenience, they sure liked their privacy. The cabin was no castle, either. Measuring a mere 15×20 feet, it is impressive that she and Charlie never tried to kill each other. Personally, I believe that only true love could hold a couple together in these circumstances.

Charlie died in 1922. Polly continued to live alone along the Salmon River until 1933, when she suffered a debilitating stroke. Three months later, she passed away in a hospital at the young age of 80.

There are several great books on Polly, but I recommend Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. McCunn has a passion for Polly’s story and you will discover things about this pioneering woman that will humble you and challenge you. It is an honor and blessing to be a woman. It is also a grand privilege to be an American.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post on PatriotsinLace, I’d love to have you join me on facebook. Sounds like we might have a lot in common!  http://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton

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